What happens now ? John Hillen and Mark Nevins

“Are Management and Leadership different?” is one of the oldest questions you'll hear at business schools, and in some ways it's the MBA’s equivalent of the ancient theological question “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” 

Management and Leadership are indeed different things. But the difference is not as extreme as some would like to express it, and the two modes are, in the real world, almost never mutually exclusive.  Peter Drucker famously said “Management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things.”  Which is a memorable and inspirational quotation, except that much of the work of executives today demands doing the right things the right way with the right people—so where does one draw the borders? 

One pragmatic way to approach the question is to think instead about three executive domains, adding “Doing” to “Managing” and “Leading.”  In an average day or week as a leader, whatever your level, you will spend some of your time doing things; some time managing; and some leading.

Start by considering honestly how you divide your time between acting as a doer, a manager, and a leader. When do you get in the trenches and do work? When do you manage or coach others in executing the work? And when do you inspire and lead others into action? What proportion of your available time and energy do you devote to each mode? What allocation will deliver maximum results for your organization?

We recently worked with a company president who wanted to “get better at focusing and driving results.” As a doer he devoted time and energy to strategic thinking, project management, product development, and financial and operational issues. As a manager he was focusing on setting goals, holding people accountable to them, deploying resources to help get tasks done, and, most important, coaching and developing his people to get even better. As a leader he was focusing on higher-order “why” questions—such as organizational purpose—as well as the “where,” “what,” and “by whom” questions that fill out any organization’s story.

We asked him what percentages of his time he thought he was spending in each of the three areas, and he responded that he felt he was allocating about 40 percent for “Do,” 20 percent for “Manage,” and 40 percent for “Lead.” Among his top three priorities: first, ensuring that the organization was thinking big about the future while people worked together to advance key projects; second, helping shape strategy with his top 30-40 people; and third, “being the face and voice of change” to a more profitable and promising business.

So then we asked: Do you think you have the right percentage breakdown in terms of where you are focusing your time and energy?

“Only in part,” he responded after thinking it over. He recognized that he needed to focus less on doing and more on managing and leading. He made a commitment to allocate more time to coaching his senior team members on achieving objectives. He also realized he needed to devote more effort to helping his people grow as leaders, in part by engaging more frequently in one-on-one conversations as a coach and mentor, with a focus on leading change. Since he wanted to transform his organization, he concluded that his top priority—what nobody else could really do—was to put even more personal effort into the leadership activities of communication, role modeling, shepherding, developing and rewarding others, and celebrating wins. 

You can conduct this simple exercise all by yourself.  Draw three columns on a sheet of paper, one each for “Do,” “Manage,” and “Lead.” Review the complete list of your activities and actions for this quarter, allocating each, in specific and measurable terms, to one of those three columns. Estimate your time spent for each, and calculate each column’s relative percentage.

Then ask yourself: Given my role and what I want to accomplish, am I focusing my time and energy in a way that is likely to drive the best outcomes?  If not, how do I need to shift my focus?

If you hold yourself accountable to keeping a Do-Manage-Lead inventory, and check yourself against it regularly, you will find that you get the best impact from your efforts as a leader. 

Finally, there’s a real correlation here to the idea of delegation. That is, what do you do yourself and what do you hand off? Our general rule—intentionally a bold statement—is that you must delegate everything that someone else can do.

We make that claim for two reasons: First, as a leader, you must delegate all the things that someone else can do because that frees you up for work only you can do. Second, it is only by delegating that you can create opportunities to develop the leaders below you: you give them a chance to step up, learn new skills, and gain the experience and visibility to turbocharge their careers.

Being more thoughtful and deliberate about where you focus your time and energy will help you weigh the urgent versus the important and consciously separate decisive versus non-decisive actions that make the difference between winning and losing.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Do-Manage-Lead: newsletter@nevinsconsulting.com


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